Prepare for reintegration: talk it out, plan ahead
June 1, 2010
STUTTGART, Germany -- This week is my husband's last week in Afghanistan. It's been a year. You name the ways - 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days - I've counted it backward and forward more times that I can remember.
In seven days or so (give or take a few), I'll get a phone call from my husband's unit telling me that his plane has landed at the local airfield, and when the Soldiers will arrive at the gymnasium for a welcome home ceremony.
I'll have three to five hours to be there, ready to welcome him home. Thinking about it gives me an excited - but nervous - feeling in my gut.
I've been making arrangements for weeks for his return, from cleaning the house to making a meal plan with all of his favorite foods. I've gotten a haircut, bought new clothes and purchased a welcome home banner.
However, I know what matters the most will be how we interact with each other, especially after the "honeymoon" phase wears off, about 45 to 60 days from now.
Like other spouses, I've heard stories about reintegration, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the many challenges of living together with a spouse after a year of separation due to a deployment.
I don't really worry about building our relationship again, especially since I was able to talk to my husband on the phone during the deployment. However, I want to do everything I can to help us adjust and prepare for anything that may happen in the future.
So, I met with a chaplain to talk about reintegration.
The first thing he told me was that I was already ahead of the game simply by coming and requesting information.
He said it's often the couples who think "It couldn't happen to us" who end up having reintegration issues down the road, frequently because they are unprepared.
Many redeploying Soldiers may have trouble completely relaxing for the first few months because their minds have not had a break in so long, he said; he called it "nervous energy." His advice to me was to keep a relaxed scheduled, especially during block leave, to help my husband unwind.
He also suggested focusing on the positive and, instead of thinking of all of the things my husband and I missed in each other's lives during the past 12 months, work on creating new memories together.
While not everything the chaplain said was new information to me, it was so good to just sit down and talk with someone about reintegrating. My worries were put into perspective when I said them out loud to someone who truly understood.
It was also helpful to hear from a Soldier who had been downrange, like my husband, and remembered how it felt to return home.
His best advice to me was probably "Be yourself." While time budgeting and staying positive are both important after deployments, Soldiers just want to be with their spouse and family, the chaplain said.
So, instead of getting myself worked up and trying to be the "perfect spouse" for my returning husband, I think I'll take the chaplain's advice and relax.
In fact, since my visit with the chaplain, I don't feel so nervous.
I understand that reintegration issues are common, but I also know that by preparing myself, I can be ready to deflect potential problems and turn them into opportunities for my husband and I to grow closer.
It's also comforting to know that, should there be any problems that we can't solve on our own, there are people in my community who can help.